Thursday, July 23, 2015

Weekend Preview: July 23rd - 26th, 2015

The Parlor at Cloak & Dapper
Weekend Events

The Daily City's 3rd Annual Cardboard Art Festival 2015 is here to prove that cardboard is still fun even after you're too old to fit in the "rocket ship" you made out of the box your refrigerator was delivered in. Friday through Sunday, various opening times, $1 to $5.

Don't even bother depositing your paycheck into your savings account because Rifle Paper Co. is having a Summer Sidewalk Sale! Mama's Sauce will be there screen printing free art prints, Hyppo Gourmet Ice Pops will be giving free pops to the first 100 customers on both days (pops are $3 the rest of the event), and you'll save up to 70% off all Rifle Paper Co. sample products. Friday 9:00am - 8:00pm and Saturday 10:00am - 5:00pm.

Phantasmagoria is back for this weekend only (wait, it's not Halloween...?) this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Tickets start at $20 regular admission / $15 discounted admission. 

Thursday, July 23rd

If you're looking for a speakeasy-style movie theater, then don't miss Cloak & Dapper's Summer Parlor Movie Series this Thursday at 7:00pm featuring Airplane! Tickets are $20 and include unlimited popcorn and drinks (including cocktails, wine, craft beer, and sodas). Get your tickets here.

This Thursday, the Alfond Inn will have gone to the dogs...but in a cute way. Yappy Hour is Orlando's dog-friendliest happy hour and it's happening Thursday from 5:00 to 7:00pm. 

Friday, July 24th

This Friday, don't miss the Cardboard Art Festival, Rifle's Summer Sidewalk Sale, and a showing of Phantasmagoria

Saturday, July 25th

This Saturday from 8:00am to 4:00pm is National Dance Day, and the Orlando Ballet School is celebrating with 30 free dance classes, stretching, cardio exercises, and choreographed routines. 

Body//Talk & IDEAS Go to Wekiva Island is a free party/springs clean-up combo happening this Saturday at 8:00am. Edit: It looks like the event has filled up, but contact them to see if there's still space. 

The Venue hosts Sweet and Sassy Charity BBQ this Saturday from 11:00am to 4:00pm, where $8 gets you a BBQ meal and lots of sass from The Orlando Sisters.

Snap! Space hosts Rethink Homelessness with Sean Black and Joshua Johnson, this Saturday from 5:00 to 7:00pm. No cover, but RSVP here.

The Orlando Curry Fest (yes, you read that right) is happening this Saturday at the Central Florida Fairgrounds from noon until 11:00pm. Tickets are $10 advance and $20 at the door. 

Sanford is getting a new (technically relocated) record store/café/lounge, so don't miss the shop's Rabbitfoot Records Coffee Lounge Grand Opening Party this Saturday at 5:00pm with live music, prizes, and a special menu. 

A Very Harry Potter Birthday Celebration is happening at Cloak & Blaster this Saturday, where you'll have the chance to get sorted, compete for best costume, and compete in the House Cup. The party starts at 6:00pm. 

Sunday, July 26th

Newbie gardeners should check out Fleet Farming's Garden Prepping Party (Sunday from 8:30 to 11:30am at East End Market) where they can learn all about types of beds, fertilizing, and composting--so don't forget your gloves and shovels! Alternatively, the Mead Botanical Garden Cleanup is happening this Sunday at 9:00am, where volunteers will clean up the Clay Pit. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Orlando on Paper and on the Screen - Part 3

Part 3: The Night We Said Yes

Of course, both of these books were released several years ago. Paper Towns was published just as the economy was crashing, but reflected the Orlando of the early 2000s, a city becoming a megalopolis, suffocated by new suburban developments and big-box town centers, orange groves and ranches lost to construction. And Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia emerged at the end of the housing collapse, its tone burdened by weariness and pessimism at a world foreclosed upon, and promises that had collapsed on themselves.

Lauren Gibaldi’s just-released The Night We Said Yes (2015), though, shows us Orlando at a very different time, even though just six years separate this book from Green’s. The teenagers are the same, of course, because…well, teenagers will never truly be satisfied with the city into which they were born, not until they move away. Take, for instance, this early scene in the novel, as narrator El attends her graduation ceremony at the University of Central Florida, Orlando’s city-sized institution of higher learning:

As we approach the University of Central Florida, the streets get louder, more crowded. Cars honk, voices yell. College students aching to stretch their legs—and livers—are out in full swing. Meg loves this. I…used to.
We were here just a week earlier for graduation. Our senior class was so large that the ceremony had to be hosted at the university’s basketball arena. As we sat waiting for our names to be called, many of my classmates, Meg included, looked around, taking in their future campus. I, on the other hand, had nothing to get attached to; I’m moving four hours north to attend Florida State University. I need to get away and try something new. You can only be hurt in a town so many times before giving up on it. (2)

There are several things of note in this description: we get the same teenage disaffection from Paper Towns and Death, Dickinson…, that sighing been-there-done-that-over-this attitude. El is “moving four hours north to attend Florida State,” needs to “get away and try something new,” is “giving up on [Orlando]”. And “Meg loves this. I…used to.” That’s a lot of disappointment packed into so few sentences.

But, on the other hand, I’d argue that this passage, found on just the second page of the book, showcases a brand-new characterization of the city of Orlando, and actually signals a changing perception of the area, both locally and nationally. Take, for instance, the descriptions of UCF, which are important not for what they show (“louder,” “crowded,” “voices yell,” “livers”), but for what they don’t show. There is an assumption from the author that “University of Central Florida” is a recognizable enough brand to justify such a sparing description; it’s a gigantic state university as respected by high schoolers as Florida State, which (here, and elsewhere throughout the book) never receives more high-school adulation than UCF. This is a characterization that would’ve seemed odd just twenty years ago, as UCF was still struggling to carve out an identity. When I graduated high school in ’98 and chose UCF over the University of Florida, where I’d also been accepted and had the same scholarship opportunities, one of my best friends looked at me blankly and just said, “Why, Nathan?” The school had no reputation, even in the state of Florida, as trying to convince the world to call it “UCF” and not “Central Florida.” Now, though, millions will have seen the UCF Knights win the Fiesta Bowl (2013-14 football season), and millions more will know that the school has one of the largest student populations in the country (second-largest, to be exact). It isn’t as household a name as Ohio State or UCLA, but—like a Darden restaurant—we kind of know the menu just by hearing the name. Had the university been mentioned in Green’s Paper Towns in 2009, by contrast, too-cool-for-school Margo would’ve said something similar to what I heard from my high school friend: “That directional school at the other end of the county? Why would anyone go to there?”

Though Gibaldi’s novel is concerned with the anxiety that teenagers experience when graduating high school and deciding upon their future homes, it isn’t nearly as dark as either of the other YA novels we’ve explored. The title alone gives us a sense of hopefulness, as does the cover image of four teenagers foregrounding a sunrise. There is indeed conflict, of course, because there’d be no story without it, but the book is focused upon overcoming fears, overcoming negativity. In particular, the book uses a “then and now” structure to contrast two important night for its narrator, El. The first (“now,” the present) shows us the post-graduation reunion of El and her old boyfriend, Matt, who’d unexpectedly moved to Texas but has now returned to attend UCF. The second (“then,” one year ago) shows us the origin of that relationship between El and Matt (who at the time was a newcomer in town). Both characters are insecure, especially when compared to their vocal (and volatile?) friends Jake and Meg. In the present-tense narrative, all four are attempting to repair fractured relationships and recapture a happiness that seemed so vibrant a year prior. In the retrospective narrative, we see all four agree to a single night in which they’ll say “yes” to everything, from climbing up to their school’s roof, to skinny-dipping, to karaoke.

The very nature of this premise and these characters (three Orlandoans, and one newcomer) lends itself to extended conversations about the city, and to occasional moments in the narrative that feel like tours:

“I…guess you’re stuck with me?” [Matt] asked. I looked back at him, knowing I was okay with that. 
“So how do you like Orlando?” I asked. There were tons of things I wanted to know, but it was the first question that popped in my head. 
“It’s okay. I’ve only been here for about a month. I don’t know much about it yet, really.” 
“We’ll have to take you out, then,” I answered, carefully using the plural so it would seem casual. (38)

Consider this for a moment: our narrator’s lack of snark, her investment in the city, her willingness—no, desire—to show someone around (“We’ll have to take you out, then”). This is a far cry from VICE’s “Big Night Out,” a far cry from Frenchie Garcia calling her state a “crematorium,” her city a “fish bowl,” a far cry from John Green’s “desperately lame” characterization.

As we progress through these two nights, past and present, we’re introduced to a number of fictitious locales that might or might not be stand-ins for real businesses. The first is Wing King:

Wing King is all dark wood and bright lights. Booths and picnic tables give the place a southern backyard barbecue feel. Old tin signs hang on the walls, advertising oil, milk, and pig feed. It’s not the nicest of places, but at one time it was ours.
“Two, please,” he says to the hostess.
It was presumptuous of him to bring me here since the place holds so many memories for us; I can practically breathe them in. The waiters and waitresses saw every phase of our relationship, from early flirtations to final conversations. I pick at my nails as I follow him to a table—to our table, the secluded booth in the corner where we used to plan epic nights full of adventure and excitement. (47-48)

Despite the sad longing for distant memories that El can “practically breathe…in,” the description is crafted in a way that allows Wing King to feel rich with personality. This is not some dumpy restaurant to be made fun of. If it has flaws, those flaws are excused as character. Later in the book, we visit One Stop Records:

“Hey guys. So, here’s the deal. A bunch of people went over to One Spin after the party broke up, just to hang out.” One Spin Records was the only remaining local indie record shop. It still sold CDs and records, as well as books and DVDs. To make up the money they lost after iPods became cool, the manager built a stage in the back for local bands to utilize, and for touring bands to host secret shows. He also had a small recording studio put in that most local bands took advantage of. It was significantly cheaper than most other places, and added a neat authentic (as in, kind of tinny) sound to the recordings. (180)

In another narrative, one published ten years prior, the narrator might scoff at this “desperate” indie record shop, barely holding on in the face of the digital revolution. But here, poor recording quality is described as “neat” and “authentic,” and One Spin Records feels innovative and fun in the same ways as our city’s most celebrated shops, bars, and eateries.

Throughout the book, Gibaldi uses tried and true Orlando details, too: El mentions that the only musicians who make it from this city are “boy bands,” and (as with any book that takes place in Florida) we see the bipolar “Florida weather,” how clear skies can turn to downpours instantly. But the book’s depiction of Orlando is most significant for that tone of fascination and (dare I say) ownership. While the book’s title refers to the literal “night of saying yes” and the metaphoric assertion of identity that this implies for the story’s protagonist (choosing to say yes, to become more adventurous, to commit to relationships), The Night We Said Yes also echoes El’s and Matt’s decision to embrace the city itself. Here’s Matt, on why he chose UCF:

“Why UCF? Really this time.” It’s what I need to know. What I’ve been waiting to ask. What I’ve been to scared to ask. Was it for me? 
“I was offered a scholarship,” he says, pushing his hair back and looking away. My heart drops, but I don’t take my eyes off him. “Good school and all.” He thinks, and then looks back at me. My breath catches as our eyes meet. “This was the only place that’s ever felt like home. I want to come back. I wanted to feel what I did when I lived here. I know you can’t go abck to a time as easily as you can go back to a place, but I wanted to try. I like it here.” (108-109)

“I like it here,” Matt says, something that Margo and Q never said in Paper Towns. And then there’s this:

I smiled and hoped, truly hoped, that Orlando might be the home he was looking for. (167)

Much of the joy that the characters are expressing for the city, admittedly, is a result of the joy they are expressing for one another’s company:

“You moved back here for me?” I ask, face so close.
He blushes slightly, but doesn’t pull away. “Of course. I didn’t lie earlier—the school here is good…but…I’ve spent my life on the road, trying to find home, when really, you were always home to me.” (284)

But still, this is a different story for the city of Orlando than anything we’ve read previously. Suddenly, it’s not a place to be escaped. It’s not a place that drains the soul. Suddenly, in Gibaldi’s book, here in the middle of the 2010s, Orlando is a place that allows growth rather than stymies it, that inspires rather than depresses. It’s not just a flimsy persona, a “paper town,” but instead a place of affirmation and positivity, a place that gives rise to its characters’ most fearless and creative moments:

And then I looked at him. His eyes were shining, daring me. Full of light and hope and everything I wanted in life. He believed in me, he actually believed in me. I didn’t have to plan this, prepare for this; it was actually here. Why shouldn’t I believe in myself? Why should I be afraid? (242)

In 2015, to show Orlando in a literary work is not to show shame, not to ridicule, but to show confidence in identity.


In the end, what can we learn from these works of young adult fiction? As Orlandoans, do we need to identify with or agree with one characterization over another? Will Gibaldi’s final positive characterization stick, serving as the model for future books and movies?

The answer to that final question, hopefully, is no.

In each of the three books, we’ve seen how an author’s characterization of the city is alive with the spirit of its time; none is truly “right” or “wrong,” but instead illuminates a particular point-of-view in a particular place at a particular time. I find it encouraging that there is now a real body of literary work that treats Orlando with seriousness, that we’ve risen above stock footage and bloggy insults. But the next works of “Orlando fiction” must move beyond what these authors have written, or the conversation will stall, and we’ll find ourselves living through cliché and stereotype again. Consider the New York depicted in the ten thousand seasons of Law & Order, how it tends to look the same from one year to the next, how the same tropes are used again and again, how even the actors are occasionally recycled into new roles. By the end, the show’s setting seems more influenced by previous seasons of the show than by New York itself. Compare that with The Wire, and how each season showed not just the history and mythology of some neighborhood or industry or institution of Baltimore, but also the forces of change at work in constantly shaping the city’s character. One of my favorite scenes in The Wire, in fact, came at the start of the third season, as we watched (alongside teenage drug dealers Bodie and Poot) a demolition team bring down the high-rise condos. In that moment, we knew that the city, and the drug trade, and the police strategy, and the real estate landscape, and the lives of hundreds of families and friends who’d understood that high-rise as their entire world, had changed irrevocably.

So, more than anything, these books—and the shifts and changes in the city’s characterization—make me excited to see where we go next. When someone writes about the city of today, Orlando in 2015, what will they say? How will we be defined? Who best to tell the story? A Puerto Rican teenager in Union Park? A twenty-something hipster in Audobon Park? A sixty-year-old church-goer in College Park? A middle-class mother in Avalon Park? Will we best be seen through the lens of a post-apocalyptic nightmare, a modern-day Alas, Babylon? Will our city and our time best be understood through the genre of a horror movie, a superhero story, a work of dark literary fiction, a piece of seminal sports writing? Much like the protagonists of these three books we’ve examined, the conversation itself is young, full of promise, full of possibility.

< Click here for Part 1
< Click here for Part 2

Nathan Holic is an Orlando-based writer. His books include The Things I don't See and American Fraternity Man. He is also the editor of the 15 Views of Orlando anthologies and the graphic narrative editor at The Florida Review literary journal. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Orlando on Paper and on the Screen - Part 2

Photo by Daniel Nixon
By Nathan Holic

Part 2: Paper Towns

John Green’s Paper Towns has a similar structure and explores some similar themes, and its voice is also important in crafting a nontraditional view of the city, but here, we see an even greater focus on how identity can be shaped by the place in which one lives. 

Paper Towns follows Quentin Jacobsen (“Q”), a boy who grew up as friends with the most popular girl in school, Margo. He’s always pined for her, and he’s always watched her enter into relationships with boys whose cool-athletic facades make them better suited for her. With this premise alone, you might think that we’ve seen Paper Towns on ABC Family at some point, that it’s just another example of the same old high school dramedy. But John Green is a smart writer; while the premise doesn’t necessarily sound new, it doesn’t need to. This is a book about clichés and stereotypes, focusing upon Margo’s decision to rebel against the stereotype bestowed upon her. She’s the beautiful girl in school, the one destined for big things at big colleges. In fact, she and Q live in a perfect Orlando neighborhood, a place based loosely on the blindingly perfect Baldwin Park area. This description comes from the first chapter of the book, and immediately sets the tone for how our characters will encounter and then subvert or flip the stereotypes:

Our subdivision, Jefferson Park, used to be a navy base. But then the navy didn’t need it anymore, so it returned the land to the citizens of Orlando, Florida, who decided to build a massive subdivision, because that’s what Florida does with land…
Before Jefferson Park was a Pleasantville, and before it was a navy base, it belonged to an actual Jefferson, this guy Dr. Jefferson Jefferson. Dr. Jefferson Jefferson has a school named after him in Orlando and also a large charitable foundation, but the fascinating and unbelievable-but-true thing about Dr. Jefferson  Jefferson is that he was not a doctor of any kind. He was just an orange juice salesman named Jefferson Jefferson. When he became rich and powerful, he went to court, made “Jefferson” his middle name, and then changed his first name to “Dr.” Capital D. Lowercase r. Period. (3-4)

(For the uninitiated, this is a reference to Orlando “mover and shaker” Dr. Phillips, whose real name was Phillip Phillips, but who actually was a doctor.)

The bulk of the book chronicles a single night in which Margo takes Q across town to try to break him out of his shell, one last act of senior-year kindness for her old friend, and then she vanishes the next morning. Was she kidnapped? Has she run away? Has she committed suicide? No one knows. With just a few weeks before high school graduation, what has become of Margo, the perfect girl with the perfect life?

The book’s setting of Orlando, then, serves as objective correlative: Margo is the city. What happens when you’ve lived under the illusion of perfection your entire life? What does that do to you? In Orlando, what happens when everyone expects a theme-park experience wherever they go? What does it feel like to grow up in a city that is a “paper town,” a place seemingly constructed only for the amusement of others, but never viewed as real by the world, its citizens never acknowledged as real human beings with real problems? Orlando is a New American City, tentative about its decisions, over-worried about its identity, and trying too hard to assert itself on the national scene; with both the city and the characters in Green’s novel, we see a search for identity, we see feelings of inadequacy, we see and feel the frustration of façade and persona and the everyday grind of trying to move beyond it.

As we saw in Sanchez’s novel, such a childhood can create a sense that your city isn’t viable. And as we’ll see in some of these examples from Green’s book, the teenage voice once again approaches disdain. Here is Q’s look at the same downtown stretch of Orange Avenue that we saw in Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia:

Tourists never go to downtown Orlando, because there’s nothing there but a few skyscrapers owned by banks and insurance companies. It’s the kind of downtown that becomes absolutely deserted at night and on the weekends, except for a few nightclubs half-filled with the desperate and the desperately-lame. As I followed Margo’s directions through the maze of one-way streets, we saw a few people sleeping on the sidewalk or sitting on benches, but nobody was moving…
Margo pointed happily, and yes, there, before us, was the Asparagus.
The Asparagus is not, technically, an asparagus spear, nor is it derived from asparagus parts. It is just a sculpture that bears an uncanny resemblance to a thirty-foot-tall piece of asparagus—although I’ve also heard it likened to:
1. A green beanstalk
2. An abstract representation of a tree 
3. A greener, glassier, uglier Washington Monument 
4. The Jolly Green Giant’s gigantic jolly green phallus
At any rate, it certainly does not look like a Tower of Light, which is the actual name of the sculpture. (53-54)

Viewed from any other point-of-view, this characterization sounds just…wrong. The “desperate and the desperately lame,” as decided by a teenager? Hey, I get it: there are a lot of douchebags in downtown Orlando, but let’s talk after you’ve graduated from Taco Bell as your restaurant of choice, okay? And remember: earlier, we saw how a self-made millionaire was made to sound lame, too. Just as in the Sanchez novel, these are the sorts of descriptions that only a spoiled teenager could give, akin to “This $5000 wall-length 3-D TV sucks, because the remote won’t work from a hundred yards away.” The teenage critique of “lame” truly is illogical, but it’s also emotionally honest, and it’s consistent, and it doesn’t apologize or become over-intelligent to please finger-wagging adult readers.

The voice, then, is essential to helping us see the city in a new way. Through the eyes of a typical tourist family, or a typical vacationer, the city of Orlando remains the same static stereotype. The veil is never lifted; the view never changes. Through the eyes of a high-schooler, we’re suddenly forced to ask questions about what it is like to live here, to grow up here. Even if this high-schooler spends a day at a typical theme park, we suddenly ask: how strange must it be to have a theme park in your backyard, to grow up with it and think that this is “normal,” to go to Disney and Universal and Sea World so often that other entertainments cannot possibly compare? To (perhaps) even feel like your city itself is a theme park, something not real, a “paper town,” a collection of consumer-driven facades…What a strange and warped childhood that actually is. Check out Q’s description of the College Park area, which is factually inaccurate but right in line with Q’s worldview:

We drove through College Park, a neighborhood that passes for Orlando’s historic district on account of how the houses were mostly built thirty whole years ago. (62)

And I-Drive, whose reputation for fakeness is second only to Walt Disney World: 

We turned onto International Drive, the tourism capital of the world. There were a thousand shops on International Drive, and they all sold the exact same thing: crap. Crap molded into seashells, key rings, glass turtles, Florida-shaped refrigerator magnets, plastic pink flamingos, whatever. In fact, there were several stores on I-Drive that sold actual, literal armadillo crap--$4.95 a bag.
But at 4:50 in the morning, the tourists were sleeping. The Drive was completely dead, like everything else, as we drove past store after parking lot after store after parking lot. (71)

And after we’ve viewed these various facades around town, these places that our teenage narrator claims to be able to “see through,” we finally arrive at something in the Orlando area that is unexpected, that has the power to change his viewpoint…a dead façade: 

We drove all the way out Colonial Drive, past the movie theaters and the bookstores that I had been driving to and past my whole life…And finally, after twenty miles, Orlando gave way to the last remaining orange tree groves and undeveloped ranches—the endlessly flat land grown over thick with brush, the Spanish moss hanging off the branches of oak trees, still in the windless heat. This was the Florida where I used to spend mosquito-bitten, armadillo-chasing nights as a Boy Scout. The road was dominated now by pickup trucks, and every mile or so you could see a subdivision off the highway—little streets winding for no reason around houses that rose up out of nothing like a volcano of vinyl siding. 
Farther out we passed a rotting wooden sign that said Grovepoint Acres. A cracked blacktop road lasted only a couple hundred feet before dead-ending into an expanse of gray dirt, signaling that Grovepoint Acres was what my mom called a pseudodivision—a subdivision abandoned before it could be completed. (138)

We then enter an abandoned souvenir store in a long-forgotten commercial development, which changes the tone of the sparkling tourist experience that we often expect:

Strangely, though, there’s still some merchandise: there’s a Mickey Mouse phone I recognize from some way back part of childhood. Moth-bit but still-folded Sunny Orlando T-shirts are on display, splattered with broken glass. Beneath the glass cases, Radar finds a box filled with maps and old tourist brochures advertising Gator World and Crystal Gardens and fun houses that no longer exist. Ben waves me over and silently points out the green grass alligator tchotchke lying alone in the case, almost buried in the dust. This is the value of our souvenirs, I think: you can’t give this shit away. (147)

This leads us to a journey of self-discovery for the narrator, one in which he slowly begins to realize how much he doesn’t know. And while there’s no apology to Orlando, Q does begin to view the people around him differently, particularly Margo, the character who parallels the city:

Margo Roth Spiegelman was a person, was a failure of all my previous imaginings. All along—not only since she left, but for a decade before—I had been imagining her without listening, without knowing that she made as poor a window as I did. And so I could not imagine her as a person who could feel fear, who could feel isolated in a roomful of people, who could be shy about her record collection because it was too personal to share. Someone who might read travel books to escape having to live in the town that so many people escape to. Someone who—because no one thought she was a person—had no one to really talk to. And all at once I knew how Margo Roth Spiegelman felt when she wasn’t being Margo Roth Spiegelman: she felt empty…Margo was not a miracle. She was not an adventure. She was not a fine and precious thing. She was a girl. (199)

She’s just a girl. And Orlando: it’s not a “miracle” or an “adventure”; it’s a city, a collection of real people living real lives and experiencing real problems.

< Click here for Part 1
Click here for Part 3 >

Nathan Holic is an Orlando-based writer. His books include The Things I don't See and American Fraternity Man. He is also the editor of the 15 Views of Orlando anthologies and the graphic narrative editor at The Florida Review literary journal. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Orlando on Paper and on the Screen - Part 1

By Nathan Holic

This summer, the film adaptation of John Green’s young adult novel Paper Towns will hit theaters, and if the movie holds true to the book, we will perhaps see Orlando—our City Beautiful—on-screen in a truly meaningful way. For years, whenever a director has wanted to convey “Orlando,” we’ve watched stock footage of Osceola County theme parks (and sometimes even Atlantic beaches), athletes and talk-show hosts and sitcom characters high-fiving Goofy. But now there’s a chance that we might finally get to feel what the residents of so many other cities feel when they watch a movie or read a book that cares about the actual place, their home, and that doesn’t feel composed entirely of cliché and stereotype.

Green’s other YA novel-turned-blockbuster, last summer’s The Fault in Our Stars, is of course the author’s crowning achievement, the banner under which John Green Nation marches. Many of his readers are (appropriately) teenagers and high-schoolers, but many more are actual adults who unapologetically enjoy coming-of-age stories, and who follow his social media endeavors the way that die-hard football fans follow the most minor of NFL training camp updates. No matter the box office haul, and no matter the role that setting plays in the film version of Paper Towns (there’s obviously a chance that we could see Orlando reduced to stock footage once again), the 2009 book already has a large readership, and the film will certainly spark greater interest in that version of the story. And as Orlandoans who care deeply about our city’s cultural identity, it’s exciting to finally have honest portraits of our town in the larger literary and cinematic landscape.

But, interestingly enough, Paper Towns is not the only recent novel to have been set in Orlando. In fact, it’s not even the only young adult novel to have done so. Here in the days before the movie’s wide release, I want to look at Paper Towns alongside some of these other YA novels, and explore how the City Beautiful is constructed from book to book: from Paper Towns to Jenny Torres Sanchez’s Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia, to Lauren Gibaldi’s The Night We Said Yes, how is Orlando depicted on the page, and what does this say about the city in which we live?

Part 1: Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia

A few years back, before the recent explosion of positive articles about Orlando’s hip neighborhoods and eateries, I remember an article from VICE Magazine’s online “Big Night Out” section that tried hard to make our city seem super-lame. Back then, we were an easy target. We were a “small market” that Dwight Howard couldn’t wait to escape, and no one was yet writing listicles about our emerging hip neighborhoods. There was no Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center, no attendance record-setting MLS team, just a lot of new suburban development. 

“I’ve been a Canadian living on the outskirts of Orlando, Florida as part of a summer internship for the last couple of months,” the author of the VICE piece begins, which to someone in a “cooler” city is perhaps enough to establish her credibility as a cultural critic on Orlando. (But look closely at that first sentence: she’s Canadian: if Canadians are making fun of Orlando, you know that we had a bleak reputation.) She then tells us that this city “is five years behind the rest of the western world,” and—as we embark upon an ill-informed and poorly described narrative—we follow her from a party bus to a place that she calls “downtown”…but the drop-off point is a “Chick-Fil-A” (she uses quotes, by the way, as if this franchise is other-wordly, so provincial as to be hilarious), and there are police on horseback, and the bars are either vaguely described or imaginary (“Zexzoo”?). Maybe I don’t get downtown very much anymore, but I didn’t recognize anything, and couldn’t understand the geography. Through the duration of the article, she takes pictures of weird and/or drunk people at bars, often sounding confused that these drunk people would want to pose for pictures (now who’s five years behind the rest of the western world?); she seems to want to engage in hardcore internet-shaming, both of the people and the city, but she’s just not that good of a writer: “We went to another crowded bar which I also don’t remember the name of. While I was there, I drank some kind of murky green substance. Finally, the bus arrived to deliver me from this hell I’d somehow wound up in.” Any city can be made to seem super-lame when a party bus is involved, and when you travel with a crew of the super-lame to places the super-lame enjoy. The piece was lazy, written with the intention only of smart-ass internet insult, and so poorly constructed that it seemed desperate. Most of my friends read it but were too perplexed to get angry. Really, the whole thing felt like listening to a whiny teenager complaining that “this place sucks!” and “when I get a car, I’m sooooo out of here!”, and it’s shaped my view of VICE Magazine and their efforts ever since. 

This, however, brings me to Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia, the second young adult novel from author Jenny Torres Sanchez, a book that comes from the same era as the VICE article but stands as a stark contrast. Sanchez doesn’t try to make fun of the city, but rather attempts to understand its growing pains, its angst, its awkwardness, even as the book’s central characters make comments that don’t sound too far off from the “deliver me from this hell” quote above. The protagonist is the acerbic and confused Frenchie Garcia, a high-school girl who drifts in and out of various crowds searching for her role, and—when Frenchie finally feels as if she’s made a connection with a boy (after a late-night adventure across Orlando)—she wakes up the next morning to learn that he’s committed suicide. 

The book is masterful in its use of voice, and in how it delves into such dark themes for a younger reading audience without ever condescending, but it’s the setting of Orlando that I found mostly skillfully deployed. The portrait of Orlando that we see in this book is painted by a teenager. It can be as maddening as the VICE profile, particularly because we disagree with Frenchie based on our knowledge and experiences as adults, but that’s what makes the book so great: Sanchez allows us to see Orlando as the characters see it, and never makes them older or more mature just to appease some eventual literary critic. Here is Frenchie Garcia describing Orange Avenue, that bustling strip of bars and restaurants and skyscrapers in downtown Orlando:

Zylos is located downtown, and it’s one of a handful of clubs that make up Orlando’s “nightlife.” Lots of local bands perform here, but we didn’t start coming here until a few months ago when Robyn met Colin, the official ID checker guy at the door. (31)

And here is her initial description of Lake Eola:

Lake Eola is a park in downtown Orlando built around a big sinkhole that was filled with water and dubbed a lake. There’s a big fountain in the center and swans everywhere you look. See, Lake Eola’s “thing” is swans. There are live swans that hang around the park and big plastic swan boats that you can rent and pedal to the middle of the lake with someone as lame as you.
“Hey, you want to hijack a swan?” Andy says. (157-158)

This is bitter teenage sarcasm without disclaimer, the word “nightlife” in quotes even as Frenchie admits that she has only been coming here for “a few months,” the word “thing” in quotes and the park reduced to a cynical “sinkhole” and the supposedly fun activity reduced to lameness. It is a teenager’s view of the city, not tailored to a teacher or a parent who might immediately respond, “You should be thankful to live here! There are so many opportunities!” Or even a twenty-something’s view of the nightlife, which probably begins after Frenchie goes to bed, costs more than she can afford, and includes a “21 & Up” sign that prevents her entrance. Hell, it’s like VICE was taking notes from Frenchie, but didn’t realize that their “Big Night Out” should not come from the perspective of a 16-year-old. 

We see Frenchie’s attitude given more depth when, inside the club, she spots Lily, an over-excited friend who fronts a band and bursts with energy:

Lily…hugs Robyn and then me. I cringe when she does. It’s just that some people, like me, don’t like to be squeezed, touched, stood too close to, breathed on, etc. But Lily on the other hand, is a hugger and personal space invader. (34)

In moments such as this, as Torres contrasts two very different types of characters, we are shown the two different views of Orlando amongst the teenage population: those who embrace the tourism and the noisiness and aspire for lives on stage and in the spotlight, and those who are made uncomfortable by it, who rebel against it. It is the latter mentality that Frenchie inhabits, and it colors not just her view of the city’s nightlife, but also her view of the tourists who come to visit her local haunts, as we see in this quick moment at Frenchie’s favorite coffee shop:

I take a sip of my iced coffee and stare out the large glass windows in front of the shop.
Across the street, a young boy with a Goofy shirt runs down the steps of a house and pulls at the locked door of a car. His parents, both with sunglasses on and water bottles in hand, stand at the front door and talk to someone in pajamas in the doorway.
Tourists. On their way to Disney no doubt. Their gleaming white socks and tennis shoes are almost as blinding as the stucco walls of the house from which they just emerged. (43)

Orlando is like the nightclub in the Duff Gardens episode of The Simpsons, the one where the New Year’s Eve ball-drop occurs every hour on the hour. It’s all confetti and champagne toasts and constant excitement. “This must be so fun to work here,” Marge says to a waiter at the club. “Kill me,” the waiter says.

Sanchez is capturing not just the weariness that local residents often feel at seeing the rest of the world always on vacation, but that unique cynicism in all tourist-town residents that they alone can see through the veil. Visitors are a bunch of marks who don’t know they’re being taken advantage of, and we—the residents—are the only intelligent ones. We don’t fall for the “tourist traps.” We, like, get it:

I pity them because here’s the thing nobody says in brochures: Florida isn’t so much the Sunshine State as it is a crematorium. And as you walk down Disney World’s Main Street, as you melt and the soles of your shoes stick to the asphalt, you and ten thousand other visitors will walk aimlessly about in a heat-induced hallucinatory state, wondering how something so wonderful, so promising, could be so absolutely fucking miserable. But you slap on a happy face because “It’s a Small World” plays somewhere and makes you buy into that happiness. And if you can’t be happy here, then where can you be happy? (43-44)

And in the following description of Orange Avenue, Frenchie treats even the residents as clueless:

Colin and I make our way down Orange Avenue and cut through rowdy crowds of half-drunk people downtown. There are homeless people slumped on the sides of the sidewalks, little dirty heaps that blend into the buildings. A tall girl in a shimmery gold top is walking toward us. She links arms with the guy next to her and is close to one of the dirty little heaps before she realizes it, and then just steps right over him—literally. (139)

Frenchie possesses the gift of critical observation, scrutiny; she thinks she can see the world as it truly is, but everyone else is oblivious. Very “teenager.”

Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia also showcases the particularly teenage view that Orlando is a place to be outgrown, that all those other American cities are the real places to be (perhaps they seem sexier due to their depictions on Entourage and Sex and the City, etc. (and here we are, back at that “self-worth” idea!)), that the West Coast is an exotic “happenin’ place,” and that truly successful people leave Orlando for untold adventures elsewhere. Says Lily, the lead singer: 

“It’s just, so much is riding on this. If he likes tonight’s show, he might fly us out to California to record a demo. And if he really likes us, he’ll tour us on the West Coast for a while to get us out there. He thinks we have a good West Coast appeal. Isn’t that cool?” (86)

West Coast = cool. Orlando = lame. We see this teenage perception even more clearly in another moment at Lake Eola in which the characters discuss the swans (the live ones that glide across the water and wander the park endlessly, not the plastic paddleboat swans). It’s a moment that mirrors an iconic scene in The Catcher in the Rye:

After a while, he says, “You know, it’s not fair that they keep all these swans here. I mean, why? For our amusement and entertainment? Doesn’t that seem kind of fucked up?”I shrug. “I guess,” I say. “But it’s not like they’re in cages of anything. I mean, they have a nice place, and the city takes cares of them, and…it’s not like they’re in a fishbowl or anything. There’s lot of room here and they wander around wherever they want.”“But it is a fishbowl,” Andy says. “They don’t have a choice.”I look at the swans on the lake. “They look happy enough, though. They don’t even realize they’re stuck.”“That’s even worse,” he says. I laugh, but Andy doesn’t. In fact, he seems agitated by the swans’ ignorance. (160-161).

The idea of being “stuck” in a city like Orlando is laughable to the adult mind. It’s a Top-25 TV market with one of the best airports in the country (something a teenager wouldn’t appreciate but a working adult in, say, St. Louis, definitely would), and—though it can be expensive—there’s certainly no lack of amusements and entertainments, no lack of culture in the city proper. Complain to an adult in Cleveland or Buffalo or Kansas City that your theme parks are annoying and uncool, that (sigh) it takes thirty minutes to drive to the beach. The only thing missing in Orlando is winter, and sensible drivers. For the discerning adult, the choice is simple: if you don’t like it, move to New Jersey. Or Sacramento. Or Minneapolis. Or Cleveland. Or congested Los Angeles. Have at it. Wherever you go, there are bound to be new problems. But to the teenage mind (particularly the teenager who’s lived in Orlando for a lifetime), this is a “prison.” A prison with roller-coasters, of course, and fake snow in Celebration, and a complete re-creation of the Simpsons’ town of Springfield, but alas. The point isn’t to argue with this girl who just got her license. The point is that Sanchez shows us exactly how to avoid crafting a stereotypical view of the city in our fiction, just by choosing characters whose lives have led them to see Orlando in a very specific way.

In the end, Sanchez shows us that it’s way more fun to read a fictional version of the VICE perspective, one in which the author has crafted an ironic narrator and understands that there is a distance between what the character perceives and what is reality, than it is to read the VICE article itself, which doesn’t seem to understand or care that its perception is not reality.

Nathan Holic is an Orlando-based writer. His books include The Things I don't See and American Fraternity Man. He is also the editor of the 15 Views of Orlando anthologies and the graphic narrative editor at The Florida Review literary journal. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Weekend Preview: July 16th - 19th, 2015

Woodcut by Jacoub Reyes
Thursday, July 16th
Fauna at Canvs features works from Forrest DeBlois and Jacoub Reyes that explore the images and stories of animals. Hosted by Takeover, who brings art to local co-working spaces, this opening will include guest speaker Cole NeSmith (creator of the Creative City Project) who will have a conversation about the power of art, community, and creativity. 6:00pm, talk at 7:30pm, free.

For a night in a different direction, check out The Dual Duel, an MC freestyle and Bboy/Bgirl rap battle competition which also includes an album release party for a local female hip hop artist, MyVerse. 9:00pm at The Office, $10.

Inkstains, the latest exhibit at Redefine Gallery, opens Thursday night with an opening reception from 6:00 to 10:00pm. It's part of the 3rd Thursday Gallery Hop & Artwalk in Downtown Orlando.

Friday, July 17th

As a self-described bunch of "kinky do-gooders doing good," let the Live Lewd Girls Return! entertain you with erotic spoken word and storytelling to benefit the Florida Little Dog Rescue. So break out your best "well I've never!" and join this all-female cast that's been plucked from the performance stages, adult film sets, and fetish dungeons of Florida. What better way to start your weekend than getting all hot and bothered for charity? Doors at 9:00pm, $5 donation.

Over in Winter Garden, the Garden Theatre's Friday Cult Classics series is showing Mystery Science Theater 3000 (yeah, I guess there was a movie?) at 7:00pm; tickets are $6.

Come out and celebrate beer St. Arnoldus at the Rogue Pub's Saint Arnoldus Day Celebration, this Friday at 7:00pm (and again Saturday at 2:00pm) with limited-edition beers, swag, and more.

Saturday, July 18th

Retro City Cycles presents Ride for our Homies Urban Race this Saturday at 1:00pm, a point-to-point race of about 10 miles with selfie-opps at each checkpoint. $10 to participate, which go directly to H.O.P.E.

Join your fellow art-loving Orlandoans for a screening of  Full Circle: Before They Were Famous, a documentary about the time photographer William John Kennedy spent with the iconic artists of the Pop Art Movement. The current art exhibit at Snap! features many of those photographs taken by Kennedy, and after the screening there will be a Q&A with Louis Canales, Creative Director of KIWI Arts Group. 7:00-9:00pm, free (but RSVP online).

It's time for another Art & Wine Stroll at Artegon Marketplace, with local art, complimentary treats and wine, and live music.

No Borders is a prized art competition happening this Saturday at 8:00pm ($5) where artists are given one black marker and one color of their choice to "out-create their opponent" on 4'x4' and then 6'x6' canvases. (You'll recognize some of the artists, like Boy Kong, from their murals around town.)

Grab your leggins and don't be shy with the Aqua Net, it's the 10th annual Crazy 80s Pub Crawl this Saturday. Check-in is at Wall Street Plaza at 8:00pm, but the crawl actually starts at Finn Henry's & co. Tickets are $20 and include four drinks.

Sunday, July 19th

It's a dilemma that adults face everyday: the desire to go back to a time of simple, childish, carefree fun vs. the reality that most kids' playtime doesn't include craft beers and cocktails. Well, the Cloak & Blaster has solved that problem by hosting a Coloring Book Pajama Party! With a night full of pajamas, breakfast food, cartoons, beer, and coloring sheets/crayons, you can relive the best years of your childhood while also being old enough to dictate your own bedtime. 6:00pm, free.

The 7th Annual Southern Fried Sunday Benefit for The Mustard Seed is this Sunday at 4:00pm, where $10 gets you in to see 21 (!) musical acts and a BBQ dinner.

What are you up to this weekend? Leave a comment below!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Weekend Preview: July 9th - 12th, 2015

Photo by Steven Miller Photography
Thursday, July 9th

Stacked! at SAK is an all-female musical improv troupe from Chicago that will join forces with the local talent in a show that culminates in a completely made up musical. 7:30 - 9:00pm, $12.

In keeping with the ladies theme, Nerd Nite Orlando XXIX: Ladies Nite will feature presentations "The Maiming of Botany," "Pregnancy is Weird" (by yours truly!), and "Long Live Queen Jane." This free event starts at 7:00pm, but get there early for a good spot!

Grab a six-pack and your best gal and head on over to Park Ave for their Popcorn Flicks in the Park: Muscle Beach Party hosted by the Enzian. With surfers versus gym bunnies on the beach in those '60s short shorts, we are all winners. Get there early for a good spot! 8:00pm, free.

Friday, July 10th

Never say die at PJs & A Movie: The Goonies. Get there around 7:00pm to snag a good spot and enjoy the '80s videos, and stay after the movie for the PJ contest! 8:30pm, $8 includes entry and popcorn and candy.

Speaking of taking it old school, Astro Skate Orlando is having a Grand Re-Opening where they've completely renovated the old Universal Skating Center and have new floors, skates, food, etc. The only thing they preserved is the campy fun of grabbing a buddy and showing how gracefully you can booty dance to N*Sync while on neon-colored in-line skates. And the couples-skate moments to Boyz2Men. 8:00pm, free at the Goldenrod location.

If you've never checked out the Alfond Inn, now is the time with the July Conductor Crawl to the Alfond Inn! From 6:00 to 10:00pm; starts at $5 (train ticket only) but the $25 option gets you a SunRail ticket, a drink at all three stops, happy hour specials after the first drink, and hors d'oeuvres at Alfond Inn.

Two shows not to miss this weekend are the Orlando Is Tight Compilation Fundraiser (Backbooth, $8, 7:00pm) and O-Town Meltdown (Venue 578, $10, 6:30pm).

Saturday, July 11th

Ooh-la-la, it's Audubon Park's Seventh Annual Bastille Day Celebration! With more crêpes, cheese, and wine than all of Paris (because this is the APGD, go big or go home), this is the classiest day-drinking you'll ever experience. The first event starts at 9:30am, various prices depending which events you attend.

If you're looking for something less fancy and more nerdy, look no further than Embrace Your Geekness Day at Oblivion Taproom; 4:00 to midnight, free if you don't want to eat, drink, or buy anything...

If you haven't check out Winter Garden's (relatively) new Crooked Can Brewery, which anchors Plant Street Market, then check them out this weekend; live music by local band Beemo from 6:00 to 9:00pm.

Don't miss the live watch party for Orlando City Lions vs FC Dallas at the Harp & Celt this Saturday at 7:30pm with $4 pints and $5 Tito's drinks.

Sunday, July 12th

Tickle your funny bone and get one last beer (or three, whatever) in before the work week starts again at Lil Indies' Comedy Show featuring two Atlanta comedians and two local boys; 8:00pm, free.

The Orlando Roller Derby Girls take on the Sintral Florida Derby Demons this Sunday at 5:00pm at the Semoran Skateway; doors at 4:30, tickets are $9 adults/$6 kids; beer and food for sale.

What are you up to this weekend? Leave a comment below!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

4th of July 2015 Orlando Weekend Preview!

Photo by Tina Craig
Weekend Events

Freedom. Liberty. BBQs.

Thursday, July 2nd

While art can be fun, it can also often be very emotional and even triggering at times, but that's because it strives to capture all aspects of the human experience. At the Welcome to Anxiety art show, there will be performances and visual art based on anxiety, mental illness, loss, pain, anything that shows the less pleasant, but very real, sides of our journey through this life. 7:30, free.

Friday, July 3rd

Get the sparks flying early this year with Red Hot & Boom 2015 that boasts a fireworks show to rival the theme parks. With food, various live artists (including Shaggy--and we don't even have to be drinking to get down to Boombastic), drinks, and of course fireworks, you're in for a good time. 4:00-11:00pm, free.

Inject some color into your life after work with FAVO Motel Studios Art Show at the Faith Arts Village Orlando with art, live music, and food trucks. 5:00-9:00pm, free.

Get weird with your artistic tastes and head over to Stardust Video & Coffee for Describing Bodies: Brandon Geurts/Cassidy Jones opening reception. There will be a collaborative video installation for opening night as well as a 'zine for this event and signed prints. 7:00pm, free.

Saturday, July 4th

Celebrating its 10th year, the 2015 I-4 Fest will be throwing over 25 bands at you, along with a BBQ (vegan and non-vegan offerings), beer (free during one of the sets), art, live painting, glass-blowing, and a healthy dose of freedom. All this can be found at Austin's Coffee House with the festivities running from noon until midnight, $6.

There's nothing more traditionally Orlando than Fireworks at the Fountain at Lake Eola Park. With various performances, kid-friendly activities, great food and drinks, get there early to stake out a good spot so you can walk around and check out all the vendor tents. Event starts at 4:00pm, fireworks a little after 9:00pm, free.

Now let's say you don't have kids (or you found a babysitter) and you're looking to get good ol' fashion star spangled hammered. First, leave a bottle of water and Advil next to your bed before you leave for the evening (you can email us thank you tomorrow). Second, get thee to The Geek Easy for their Animated Drinking Night 4th of July Edition featuring Archer and be prepared to laugh while drinking, competitively sing "Danger Zone," and participate in Archer trivia for prizes. 7:00pm-2:00am, free.

The only time Jeff Goldblum has looked like a badass.
Join the Fresh Prince of... um, I mean Will Smith and the Enzian in partying for our fair land with beer, BBQ, and a special screening of INDEPENDENCE DAY on the lawn. BYOChair and get there early for a good spot. Tickets include a free beer and a full BBQ dinner. Movie starts at 8:30pm, $20.

Sunday, July 5th

Look, you're going to be hungover anyway so why not take an extra step in the awkward direction with Uncomfortable Brunch presents Shame at Will's Pub. The premise of these brunch events is awesome: "An academically important but ridiculously uncomfortable art film that every film lover SHOULD watch, just doesn't necessarily WANT to watch with a group" but with delicious breakfast foods and brunch drink specials. And for this particular movie, a side of Michael Fassbender's shlong. Noon, $10.

Switch up your sun salutation time with Sunset Yoga at the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens. The class will run 75 minutes and there might be a surprise for early arrivers! 6:30pm, free.

We would also like to give a quick PSA: July 5th is the busiest day of the year at shelters because so many pets escape homes and back yards in desperate fear of fireworks (and only 15-20% get reunited with their owners, according to the SPCA). Please keep your furry loved ones safe this year with these tips!